The Munsee are the group most strongly associated with the Wyoming Valley. Prior to colonial settlement, the Munsee seem to have sparsely lived in and maintained control over the valley. Furthermore, the later ethnogenesis Wyoming Delawares (see Wyoming Delawares tab) was predominantly composed of Munsee heritage. For insight into Munsee-Lenape culture please see the Lenape tab under Nations for the sake of minimizing confusion.
Although culturally nearly identical to the Lenape, the Munsee were known as the most warlike of the peoples under the larger Lenape cultural umbrella. In the 17th century, the Munsee partook in various violent conflicts with Dutch and English settlers along the Hudson River and in New York as well as participating in conflicts between the Haudenosaunee and the Susquehannocks. Such conflicts are not particularly relevant to Munsee involvement in the Wyoming Valley. However, on a broader level they can be understood as Munsee acts of resistance to colonization and desire to retain historical homelands in the Hudson River Valley. Ultimately, like most nations, Munsee population and control over their land took major hits due to the three-headed source of woe in the Americas: war, trade, and disease. Ultimately, the Munsee retreated from the coastlines of New York and New Jersey and inland to places like the Wyoming Valley where they formed strong kinship bonds with other displaced peoples.
The Munsee’s proclivity toward violence, relative to their southern Lenape neighbors, could partly explain the more violent and Christian-resistant culture that emerged in the Wyoming Valley in the mid 18th century (see “Wyoming Delawares” tab under “Nations” and “Native Resistance to Conversion” under “Christianity and Colonization”) However, more complex factors certainly were at play.
The most famous local tale of Munsees is undoubtedly the story of Chief Capouse, or Capoose, and his settlement near Weston Field in the Providence section of North Scranton, not far from Scranton High School. It is said that Chief Capouse was a peaceful chief. It is unclear to what extent the legend of his moral character is based on fact or fiction. Historically, it is likely that any peaceful tendencies toward natives from a chief in the Wyoming Valley in the 18th century were part of a larger strategy and not out of love for white colonists. The willingness of locals to accept a myth that he was a friend of European colonists points more toward an underlying settler colonist shame than to historical fact. However, there is no reason to doubt that he was not particularly violent. Further, it has been said that Scranton Memorial Field was a longstanding Munsee meeting ground. There is no known evidence that can verify this claim. It seems unlikely that this would have been the site of a historically and culturally significant meeting ground prior to the eighteenth century due to the Wyoming Valley’s, especially the northern portion of the valley’s, lack of relative importance and sporadic settlement and usage patterns prior to European colonization. Driving through the Green Ridge section of Scranton, one can find vestiges, in the form of street names like Capouse Avenue and Monsey Avenue, of early settlers’ desires to appropriate and mythologize the people that were victims of settler colonialism. Local figures like Benjamin Throop and Horace Hollister were examples of individuals who made lofty conjectures about local natives and passed them off as fact. Such local myths about the Munsee and more generally local native history likely have some truth about them, but are historically unverifiable and likely filled with made up tales by guilty-minded colonists.
Today, most descendants of the Wyoming Valley’s Munsee population can be found on Delaware Indian reservations in Kansas and Oklahoma as well as on reservations in eastern Canada. There are very few speakers of Munsee left, and their language is at risk of extinction.